One of my professors, on the first day of class, pulled up on the projector a list of 50 words. Authenticity; Justice; Integrity; Inner Harmony; Productivity; Independence; Love; Family.
Core values. Values that highlight what we stand for, that guide our behaviors and our decisions and our actions. Values that guide our lives.
“I want you to take a few moments,” my professor said, “and read over these words. Think about them and what they mean to you; what they evoke in you. And then write down your top ten.”
It was overwhelming—the words on the screen all seemed to jumble together, forming one giant block of text. Freedom; Security; Compassion; Sincerity; Peace; Wisdom.
We have to define our values now? Here?
We sat there, silently, some of us looking up at the screen and then down at our notebooks, others just staring straight ahead, thinking. Pens scribbling on paper, some muted whispers between classmates.
“Now,” she said, “I want you to narrow that list down to three.”
And, after a few moments, “and finally, just choose one.”
The one thing that drives my decisions, my actions, and my life.
The thing I strive for in the work I do.
What keeps me confident that recovery is possible and worth fighting for.
I circled my value on the page, definitively: Community.
The warm and comforting glow of understanding and shared experience.
The feeling of belonging. Being a part of something greater.
When I started my own recovery in 2014, it was community that helped me start to heal. It showed me that I wasn’t alone. Community wrapped me up in “we see you” and “we love you” and “it’s going to get better,” and it showed me a way out.
It took the lies my disorder was shrouding me in and flung them into the light. The coping mechanisms that no longer served me; the isolation; the self-doubt—those things didn’t magically disappear, but they stopped being a secret. They stopped being so heavy. Community showed me what I was carrying and helped ease the load.
It’s the family who travels from miles away, in t-shirts gilded with permanent marker and puffy paint and the name of someone who’s getting up, every day, to fight. It’s the family who walks for the ones whose fight ended too soon.
It’s every volunteer whose life and heart has been touched by this mental illness, who knows how it sounds, how it feels, how it hurts.
It’s the friendships I’ve made with people whose souls fit with my own.
It’s the strength I borrowed when I didn’t have any of my own left.
Community saved my life. I know this with absolute certainty.
Without them—without you, reading this right now—I wouldn’t be who I am today.
Because all of us are here, together, we are part of something greater than just ourselves.
And what better value is there than that?
Gina is a writer, blogger, and Instagrammer whose work integrates mental health and eating disorders on the axes of body politics and self acceptance. Currently she runs the Instagram account @nourishandeat, providing inspirational and thought-challenging content, along with sharing her own personal journey. She is the creator of the hashtag #embracethesquish, a movement driven by the idea that our bodies in every form are worthy of love and respect. She believes in the power of authenticity and acceptance, working to make sure her followers know that perfection — in life and in recovery — doesn’t exist. Gina is a frequent speaker at various workshops, panels, retreats, and NEDA walks. She is also currently enrolled in graduate study to receive her Masters in Clinical Mental Health. You can find Gina on Instagram, Twitter, or somewhere under a blanket. With snacks.